by Salvador Capote
Aug. 16, 2012
Translation by Machetera
Ronald Reagan signed the law that set up Radio Martí (the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act) in October of 1983, but very much due to the so-called historical “exile” leaders and Reagan himself, by law, Radio Martí would not enjoy the independence of its counterparts, like Radio Free Europe. To the contrary, it would be subordinate to the Voice of America (VOA) and subjected to the same controls that govern that entity’s radio broadcasts. Radio Martí went live on May 20, 1985, using transmitters located in Florida’s Marathon Key. In 1990, the administration of Radio and TV Martí, created that same year, were assigned to the “Office of Cuba Broadcasting” (OCB), but remained under the aegis of the VOA.
During those first years, Jorge Mas Canosa, the leader of the terrorist organization known as the Cuban American National Foundation, exercised decisive influence over the OCB as head of the president’s “Advisory Board for Cuba Broadcasting.” In order to exercise complete control, however, it was necessary to remove the OCB from Washington and move it to Miami, where it would be far easier to dodge the frequent inspections, audits and programming reviews experienced in the nation’s capital.
In reality, Radio Martí was always (and still is) to a greater or lesser degree, just one more radio station at the service of the Cuban American ultra-rightwing that holds political and economic power in Miami, with the peculiarity that it would not compete with the other stations, but rather, collaborate with them and share staff and programming. Radio Martí’s political shenanigans would be amplified by local broadcasters and vice versa. I’ll just cite one example: the scandal of 1991. According to a version published by the Los Angeles Times (1), Mas Canosa forced Rolando Bonachea, the director of Radio and TV Martí, to hire Agustín Alles, who didn’t speak English, as the new News Director, in spite of the fact that a fluent command of English was an essential requirement for the job. Once in charge, Alles provided favorable coverage of all of Mas Canosa’s and the CANF’s activities.
Mid-year in 1996, the US Information Agency investigated accusations against Radio Martí regarding political reprisals, favoritism and distortions of the news. The investigation was abruptly closed when a law sponsored by Senator Phil Gramm (R – Texas), eliminated the position of Inspector General for the Agency, held by Marian Bennet (2). That was the same law that authorized Radio Martí’s move to Miami. From now on, terrorist organizations in Miami would have a government voice at their beck and call, paid for by US taxpayers, and used to promote tightly connected policies of violence and intolerance.
With the death of Mas Canosa (November, 1997), the journalist Kathy Glasgow pointed out (3), a leadership gap appeared and Radio Martí became a stew of conflict in the already turbulent world of Miami exile politics. With the changes in programming that accompanied the station’s move to Miami in 1998, what many called the “Miamization” of Radio Martí came about: less news, less analysis and more anti-Castro rhetoric.
In the words of Congressional Representative Jeff Flake (R – AZ) (4), “Moving the facilities to Miami sacrificed (Radio Martí’s) effectiveness, making it simply another Miami radio station. Radio Martí should be relocated and every effort should be made to end its image as a mouthpiece of the Miami Cuban American community.” (5)
On May 13, 1998, Marta Rodríguez, the Puerto Rican columnist at El Nuevo Herald (8) said, “Those who listen barely recognize the programming, confusing it with that of other well-known, strident Miami stations…The recently appointed directors (9) have acted quickly to…offer a radio menu that, curiously, responds more to local political interests than to the tastes of an audience in Cuba.” (10)
Shortly before the Cuban Five were arrested on September 12, 1998, Glasgow wrote: “Anyone watching (or listening) knew that, with the station finally splashing into Miami’s overheated political cauldron, substantial and perhaps bloody change was ahead.” (11)
A large part of those commenting and reporting for Radio Martí worked at the same time for Radio Mambí or at WQBA-AM (“La Cubanísima”) (12). This overlapping of personnel and programming became clear with the appointment of the Miami attorney Herminio San Román to the executive leadership of the station (from the beginning of 1997 until mid-2001), that is, during the period that coincided with the arrest and trial of the Cuban Five. The most conspicuous example is that of Armando Pérez Roura, Director of Radio Mambí, who came to have more than four hours a week of commentary on Radio Martí, more than enough time to unleash all his venom toward Cuba and the Five, not just locally, but abroad. He wasn’t alone, of course. Many others, like Rafael Díaz Balart and Carlos Alberto Montaner, made their own venomous contributions in all directions.
Pinpointing the local audience for Radio Martí in the relevant time period (from the arrest of the Five in 1998 until their convictions in 2001) is difficult. Certainly, it could be heard in Miami on three different shortwave frequencies, from its transmitter located in Greenville, North Carolina, and on regular radio frequencies in certain places in south Florida, while TV Martí could be seen via satellite (Hispasat 1A went into orbit in 1992 and 1B in 1993, reaching the end of their useful lives in 2003).
But in my opinion, more important than the station’s local audience is the fact that many of the programs that could have negatively affected the trial against the Five were broadcast by Radio Martí and rebroadcast by local stations, or vice versa. Since it was Radio Martí that possessed the greater resources, both in terms of material and staff support, it also had the greater capacity to create and produce programming. As well, its employment of journalists and purchase of programs from local stations for rebroadcast provided financial stimulus, with government funds, for products that would illegally and adversely affect the Five.
We must not forget that the aptly named anti-Castro industry in Miami is, without a doubt, one of the world’s most profitable: every year it contributes tens of thousands of dollars to electoral campaigns and receives in exchange tens of millions of dollars in federal funds. Radio and TV Martí have cost the public treasury more than half a billion dollars, used largely to maintain a bureaucracy that perpetuates irrational discourse relative to Cuba, during a history plagued with illegalities.
At the end of 2006, due to increasing inquiries from Democrat and moderate Republican congressional representatives alike, the White House supplied a supposedly updated list of seven members of the Presidential Advisory Board for Cuban Broadcasting. This was when it was revealed that this advisory council, which by law should have had nine members and was to perform the function of supervising radio and television broadcasts toward Cuba, had not met since 1998 – the year when the notorious behavior began – in other words, for the last eight years.
The loss of control over the radio executives was so egregious that one of the members included on the shortened list, Charles Tyroler, an intelligence officer during the Reagan administration, had died in 1995, eleven years prior to the release of the list. Salvador Lew, who preceded Pedro Roig as Director of the OCB – also on the list – denied belonging to the board and had the impression that it had been disbanded. Another member, Robert McKinney, connected with the financial world, stated that he had never been called to a Board meeting. “In my opinion,” he said, “they don’t want this Board to operate.” (13)
This remarkable confluence of facts reveals not only that Miami’s exacerbated political environment made a fair trial impossible for the Five, but also that the government, mainly through Radio Martí, contributed notably to the creation of a poisoned atmosphere. Partly through negligence and partly through calculated interest, the government of the United States left the Martí stations at the mercy of the Cuban American rightwing.
The proof exists in the naming of leaders from terrorist organizations to its oversight agencies, the transfer of the station to Miami in 1998 on the eve of the arrest of the Five, the mass hiring of hardline anti-Castro journalists, the purchase and rebroadcast of programs that would stimulate the negative environment against the Five, the impunity of the ringleaders, and the dissolution of the functioning of the only group (the Presidential Advisory Board) that might have been able to exercise any type of control.
(1) Mike Clary: “Radio Marti move to Miami strains credibility, critics say: lawmakers, others warn against relocation to heart of Cuban American community”, Los Angeles Times, Aug 20, 1996.
(3) Kathy Glasgow: “Radio Free Miami”, New Times, Jun 4, 1998.
(4) Citado por Katie Harr – Council on Hemispheric Affaires: “Radio and TV Marti: Miami’s children of scorn”, The Panama News, Vol. 12, Number 7, April 9-22, 2006.
(5) “Moving the facilities to Miami sacrificed its effectiveness, making it simply another Miami radio station. Radio Marti should be relocated and every effort should be made to end its image as a mouthpiece of the Miami Cuban American community.”
(6) Citado por Harr: Idem.
(7) “Today it’s just another Miami radio station.” =
(8) Kathy Glasgow: “Incessant Static: Every year millions of your dollars are pumped into Radio and TV Marti. What do you get in return?”, Miami New Times, Mar 28, 2002.
(9) Herminio San Román, Director de OCB, y Roberto Rodríguez Tejera, Director de Radio Martí.
(10) “Those who listen barely recognize the programming, confusing it with that of other well-known, strident Miami stations” … “The recently appointed directors have acted rapidly to … offer a radio menu that, curiously, responds more to local political interests and their own than to tastes of their island audience.”
(11) “Anyone watching (or listening) knew that, with the station finally splashing into Miami’s overheated political cauldron, substancial and perhaps bloody change was ahead.”
(12) Citadopor Glasgow: Idem.
(13) Andrew Zajac, Chicago Tribune: “Warning to Radio, TV Marti: Congress is watching”, Los Angeles Times, Dec 24, 2006.